Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Remembering the First Provisional Regiment: They Guarded New York City's Water Supply


According to blind poet John Milton, "They also serve who only stand and wait." But the men of New York State's First Provisional Regiment did not merely stand and wait. During the tense years of 1917 and 1918 when American troops were fighting in Europe, they patrolled New York City's far-flung water supply system to guard against sabotage by German agents.

Chances are you've never heard of this unique military unit made up of selfless volunteers. Despite the hardships of extreme weather and temporary quarters, they performed yeoman service for a state and the nation. Their mission was to prevent damage to the vast chain of dams, gatehouses, tunnels and aqueducts bringing water to New York City--and they succeeded impressively.

Long before America entered World War I in 1917, the country had reason to worry about sabotage. When the guns of August boomed in Europe in 1914, this country quickly became a bustling arsenal, providing arms, munitions and food to the warring Allies. Most of this traffic passed through the docks lining both sides of the Hudson that made up the port of New York. The crowded city was an especially tempting target for saboteurs.

Black Tom Explodes
At 2:45 a.m. on the last Saturday night in July of 1916, the munitions-loading facility on the Jersey City waterfront at Communipaw erupted in flames. A loaded freight car and a barge moored against the mile-long pier burst into flames almost simultaneously. The barge rode low in the water; it was packed with 50 tons of TNT and 417 cases of detonating fuses.

The pier linking the mainland with tiny Black Tom Island disappeared in the ensuing blast, along with warehouses, locomotives, railroad cars, tugboats, moored barges and lighters loaded with ammunition--and the island itself. [For those who collect trivia, the site of the Black Tom explosion is at the southern end of what is now Liberty State Park.] The noise was described as "a rumbling of thunder." Artillery shells burst above the harbor in a fiery display, raining down on nearby Ellis Island and its immigration station.

The blast was so violent the shock could be felt as far away as Connecticut and Philadelphia. Panes of glass were shattered in thousands of homes. In lower Manhattan, hardly a window was left intact. Loss in broken windows in the skyscrapers of the financial district a;pne was more than a million dollars.

Because the blast occurred on a weekend, fatalities were surprisingly low: a railroad guard, a policeman and a child thrown from its crib in Jersey City. A fourth victim, whose body washed ashore six weeks later, was identified as the captain of the barge on which the first flames had been detected.

Total damage was estimated at $20 million. Claims were made before the Mixed Claims Commission. The Commission decided the Black Tom explosion was the work of German agents and $50 million in damages was to be paid by Germany. By then it was 1939, and Adolf Hitler was not about to settle such claims, being preoccupied with plans for world conquest.

Fear Begets Hysteria
After Black Tom and the subsequent complete destruction of a munitions plant at Kingsland, N.J., in January 1917, the country was swept by fear and a growing anti-German hysteria, the latter often reaching ridiculous extremes.

It became patriotic to use euphemisms. On restaurant menus, sauerkraut was Americanized to liberty cabbage. The ubiquitous hamburger was sold as a liberty sandwich. And frankfurters became hot dogs. During this period, too, German shepherd dogs were called Alsatians. Ironically, self-appointed linguistic reformers were apparently unaware that Alsatian was the name by which the breed was known to the Germans. By the time the United States entered the war, fourteen states had banned the teaching of German in schools--a blow from which the language never recovered.

Germany's insistence on its right of unrestricted warfare against unarmed ships bound for Europe only fanned the flames of suspicion and fear. The Black Tom and Kingsland explosions had left little doubt in the minds of authorities about Germany's intentions.

The Aqueduct Threatened
Recognizing the essential role of the port of New York and perceiving a potential threat to the city's aqueduct system, New York's Governor Charles S. Whitman issued orders to Maj. Gen. John F. O'Ryan in February of 1917. He was to deploy units of the 27th Infantry National Guard Division to patrol the Catskill and the New Croton aqueducts, completed in 1917, that brought water to the city from the Ashokan Reservoir, a hundred miles to the north. In the face of a howling blizzard, the National Guardsmen were dutifully strung out along the length of the aqueduct.

Originally, New York City had considered using civilian police to guard the New Croton aqueduct and its water supply, but found the task too daunting. The fear was that German agents would start a conflagration in New York City while other agents would blow up the dams and aqueduct carrying a half billion gallons of water to the city each day. After the entrance of America into the war on April 6, 1917, although the 27th Division had been federalized it continued to guard the city's water supply until August 10th.

The First Takes Charge
On that date, responsibility for protection of the aqueduct was turned over to a hastily assembled unit, the First Provisional Regiment of the New York Guard, a home guard force formed from the depots and reservists of the departed units. A Second Provisional Regiment was formed to guard the Erie Canal, an equally vital waterway for the movement of goods. Intended for emergency service only, the New York Guard included men who were too old for military service or had been rejected by one of the branches of the armed services.

Commanding the First Provisional Regiment was newly promoted Colonel John B. Rose, a wealthy brick manufacturer. He had been a state senator from Newburgh and member of the Senate military affairs committee. Rose made a lightning-quick tour of the aqueduct system and reported to Governor Whitman that with screening for open culverts, adequate lighting, telephones and vehicles, the work being done by some 3,700 National Guard troops could be performed by a minimum of 1,200 men.

Meet John B. Rose
Born in Haverstraw, N.Y., in 1875, John Bailey Rose was an honor graduate of the New York Military Academy at Cornwall-on-Hudson, N.Y., and was graduated from Yale in 1897. In that year, he and his two brothers took over the Rose brickmaking empire at Roseton, north of Newburgh, upon the death of his father. He also served two terms in Albany as a state senator.

Headquarters of the First Provisional Regiment were established near the Pines Bridge over Croton Lake, the name applied to the body of water backed up by the Croton Dam. Col. Rose had noticed nearby a large, mansard-roofed hotel known as Pines Bridge Manor. Finding it available, he made arrangements to occupy it as the regiment's headquarters. A temporary tent camp for the headquarters staff was set up farther up the hill behind the hotel building.

The Pines Bridge headquarters was in the heart of historic country. On the shoulder of nearby imposing Crow Hill could still be seen vestiges of the redoubts that Washington's retreating army had thrown up after the battle of White Plains to protect their retreat to New Jersey. In 1780, Major John Andre had crossed the old Pines Bridge spanning the Croton River on his fateful last ride that ended at Tarrytown on the Albany Post Road. The Pines Bridge was also the objective of a bloody raid on May 14, 1781, by a hit-and-run British force under the command of Lt. Col. James De Lancey that ended disastrously for the outnumbered American troops guarding it. Almost sixty years later, the original Pines Bridge would be carried downstream in January of 1841 when the first Croton Dam gave way.

Col. Rose selected the hotel on Crow Hill for several reasons. It was remote and away from the distractions that a site closer to a large town would offer. Moreover, it was strategically located near the aqueduct and was linked to posts up and down the line by a network of roads.

Organization of the Unit
The First Provisional Regiment consisted initially of two battalions; the first, headquartered at Pines Bridge Manor, guarded the aqueduct on the east side of the Hudson. Guarding the aqueduct on the west side of the river was the second battalion, headquartered at the Tamney Hotel in New Paltz.

Members of the First Provisional Regiment were drawn from New York Guard units in upstate New York and from components from New York City. One unit was supplied by the Veteran Corps of Artillery--a hereditary society of descendants of veterans of the American Revolution or the War of 1812 who had served in the armed forces. The VCA unit was composed largely of prominent bankers, lawyers and business leaders listed in the Social Register. Their military experience was invaluable to the burgeoning regiment.

Officers of New York City's Police Department also helped the regiment formulate patrol practices and suggested that the regiment adopt the "8 hours on and 16 hours off" duty schedule of New York's Finest.

Outfitting a Regiment
The National Guard units shipping out to France had depleted much of the uniforms and equipment in New York armories. As a result, it was a motley lot that assembled at various points along the hundred-mile-long aqueduct system. Some units had nearly complete uniforms; others had military-issue felt hats and civilian clothes; a few wore uniforms but lacked hats or overseas caps and still sported the popular headgear of the day--derbies.

Most carried personal articles in a small bundle or a paper bag. None had blankets or cots. When tents finally arrived, they turned out to be tall, round, conical behemoths dating from the Spanish-American War. Because sledgehammers were unavailable, the men used rocks to pound in the tent pegs in erecting them before they could get an uneasy first night's sleep.

The first folding canvas cots to arrive were white and new and looked inviting. When opened, however, they measured only five feet in length, more suited for a boys' summer camp than a military garrison. Not only were they too short for their occupants' man-sized frames, they were also too flimsy to withstand the weight of the men, and soon collapsed. They were quickly replaced with cots whose manufacturer's name is still fondly remembered in the regiment's history: that name was Gold Medal.

Eventually, the enlisted men of the regiment received standard-issue uniforms. Nevertheless, shoes, hats, leggings, shirts and ponchos were always scarce. In the first winter, some troops were issued blue cape-type overcoats that looked so outmoded the troops called them "Valley Forgers." When eventually clad in standard-issue khaki, however, aside from their unit insignia, soldiers of the regiment were indistinguishable from the millions of other soldiers serving in the armed forces.

Understandably, troops on guard duty did not rate the latest weapons. Most of the men were issued the Krag-Jorgensen rifle dating from the Spanish-American War. Some units were supplied with the even older "trap door" Springfield, originally produced in 1866. Later, the regiment was supplied with more modern so-called Russian Remingtons (a version of the Mosin-Nagant rifle made by Remington under contract to the Tsar) or the U.S. Army's Springfield '03 rifle.

Guard Duties
From the start, Colonel Rose had perceived his unit's assignment as a military operation and not simply a tour of field duty. Driven by a sergeant in Rose's own bright yellow touring car, he visited camps and posts the length of the aqueduct, stressing to officers and men the importance of the task that lay ahead.

Rose underscored the significance of the various components of the system: the vulnerable culverts over which the aqueduct had to pass above ground, the siphons that carried the aqueduct over barriers, and the tunnels, gatehouses and dams.

It would be a daunting task. The regiment divided the aqueduct system into five divisions, three on the more densely populated east side of the Hudson and two on the far side. Maximum strength of the regiment reached almost 1,600 men, but the average number of men available for duty was closer to 1,300. In the 19 months of the regiment's existence some 8,000 officers and men passed through its ranks. One cause of the comparatively high turnover was enlistment by regiment members in the Army and Navy as physical standards for those services were lowered. Serving in the regiment did not exempt members from the draft, so it could not have been a haven for slackers.

Crucial to the success of the regiment's efforts were the local ambulance units up and down the line of the aqueduct, largely staffed by women. Patrol duties were made easier, too, by the presence of guard dogs, especially useful on duty at night. Anywhere from 250 to 300 dogs were patrolling the line of the aqueduct at any one time. Many breeds were employed, but the breed most closely associated with the regiment was the scrappy Airedale, whose tough coat could withstand all kinds of weather.

Morale Matters
For any unit faced with the monotony of endless guard duty morale is important. Encouraged by Col. Rose, the first issue of a regimental weekly newspaper had appeared after little more than a month--even before a name had been chosen for it. The first issue bore the name The ????. After a regiment-wide contest to select a name, the paper was appropriately dubbed The Watchdog. A total of 37 issues were produced.

During Col. Rose's absence because of illness, publication of this newspaper of surprising journalistic merit was ended in May 1918 by order of the New York Guard's commanding general. The reason given was that the paper was occupying too much time of the officers on its staff.

Also important to the regiment's morale was its tireless chaplain, Capt. Charles W. Baldwin, rector of St. Mary's Protestant Episcopal Church on the old Albany Post Road (Route 9) in Scarborough, a small hamlet on the Hudson below Ossining. Through his efforts, the YMCA and Red Cross became active in arranging social activities for the the regiment. He also helped to organize the Aqueduct Citizen's Committee made up of prominent local citizens who arranged for games, movies, cigarettes and shower baths to be made available to the men.

The Flu Strikes
As the war in Europe ground to a close, Capt. Baldwin was instrumental in getting the use of the former Holbrook Military Academy's buildings and grounds on the heights above Ossining for the regiment. Although the First Provisional Regiment had successfully protected the aqueduct system from enemy saboteurs, one stealthy foe could not be kept at bay: influenza. The 1918 flu pandemic swept quickly around the world, felling the young and healthy, and claiming an estimated 40 million victims worldwide. In fact, more American soldiers on active duty were killed by the flu than died in World War One.

The First Provisional Regiment was hard hit by the relentless disease. A brick building adjoining Newburgh Hospital was set up as Field Hospital No. 1. Similarly, the academic building at the former Holbrook Military Academy in Ossining became Field Hospital No. 2. Of the 40 members who died during the unit's existence, 32 (80%) died of pneumonia following an attack of influenza. Only eight died of other causes, including accidents and gunshot wounds.

First to die from this unusually swift-acting disease was 18-year-old Pvt. John D. Greene of Elmira, N.Y., on October 5, 1918. Last to die from it was popular 67-year-old Sgt. Lemuel Landphier, on March 8, 1919. Especially tragic was the death of Pvt. Howell Roberts, who had enlisted in the New York Guard on November 12, 1918, and died seven weeks later, one month short of his 17th birthday. The large number of the regiment’s victims who died in the last three months of 1918 attests to the virulence of the disease.

The armistice went into effect in Europe on November 11, 1918. Demobilization of the regiment began the following month, and was completed by February 1, 1919. Regimental officers held a farewell dinner in Ossining toward the end of March.

To commemorate the service and the sacrifices of the regiment, a huge rough stone was selected on Bonticou Crag along the aqueduct route through the Catskills. It traveled by flat car of the Grand Trunk Railway to Weehawken, thence across the Hudson by railroad car ferry and up to Tarrytown on Hudson Division of the old New York Central. The Tarrytown firm of Dinkel & Jewell volunteered to move the stone to Sleepy Hollow Cenetery in North Tarrytown and a plot donated by William Rockefeller. (In 1996, the village of North Tarrytown voted to change its name to Sleepy Hollow.) Standing there today, the imposing stone and its bronze plaque pay silent tribute to the forgotten guardians of the aqueduct.

Only 44 years old, Col. Rose returned to his brickyards at Roseton in 1919 to discover that his brickmaking empire was foundering. It collapsed in bankruptcy that year, with liabilities of more than a million dollars.

His inattention to the business in the years he had been guarding the aqueduct system undoubtedly contributed to its insolvency. But an even more basic cause was the overall decline in the molded brick industry. Between 1906, when 131 brickyards were producing bricks, and 1919, when the number was down to only 66, the brick output in the Hudson Valley declined by 50 percent in 13 short years,

John B. Rose left the Newburgh area and returned to his birthplace, Haverstraw. He died at the home of a friend in New York City in comparative obscurity on March 4, 1949, one month short of his 74th birthday. His tireless efforts to protect the aqueduct system three decades earlier were barely remembered in his obituary.

With new missions that fit its role in the 21st century, the New York Guard continues to serve, and its army, and naval components offer support for state and federal agencies in emergency situations. Its members carry no weapons and receive no remuneration. The organization is independent of the New York Army National Guard.

Continuing a tradition begun in 1919, the New York Guard conducts a ceremony each year on the first Sunday in May at the memorial monument in Sleepy Hollow Cemetery, keeping ever green the memory of those who died while serving with the First Provisional Regiment. This year's ceremony will be held on Sunday, May 2nd, at 11 a.m. The public is invited to attend this ceremony and pay to their respects to those who made the supreme sactifice.

A special guest will be Mr. Byron M. Harrington, nephew of Pvt. Merville Harrington, who died in Field Hospital No. 2 in Ossining on Feb. 19, 1919, at 18 years of age. Ironically, Pvt. Harrington was one of the First Provisional Regiment volunteers who worked on bringing the Memorial Boulder from Bonticou Crag to Sleepy Hollow Cemetery. Members of the 14th and 56th brigades of the New York Guard will be in attendance at the ceremony. Music will be supplied by the 89th New York Guard Band. In traditional uniforms, Veteran Corps of Artillery members will provide the color guard.

Although the First Provisional Regiment faced no enemy fire, its unsung heroes undertook a thankless task with grit and determination. Their contributions to the war effort were considerable, yet they received few plaudits when the war was over. They also served, but these unsung heroes did so much more than merely stand and wait. We inscribe their names with pride.
* * *

The First Provisional Regiment's Roll of Honored Dead

Sgt. Owen L. Adamy, Johnson City, N.Y., 12 October 1918
Sgt. Frank Avery, Vestal Center, N.Y., 6 December 1918
Pvt. Frank Baker, Corning, N.Y., 29 November 1918
Pvt. Carl Baley, Hornell, N.Y., 16 October 1918
Pvt. John L. Barton, Endicott, N.Y., 7 October 1918
Pvt. Chester Bennett, Swains, N.Y., 16 October 1918
Pvt. James Burke, New York, N.Y., 11 March 1918
Pvt. Halsey Conway, Corning, N.Y., 26 November 1918
Pvt. Frank De Costa, New York, N.Y., 3 December 1918
Sgt. Bienvenido Fajardo, New York, N.Y., 9 September 1918
Pvt. Leslie C. Fuller, Groton, N.Y., 2 December 1918
Sgt. Charles Garland, Binghamton, N.Y., 4 December 1918
Pvt. Raymond Gee, Trumansburg, N.Y., 30 November 1918
Pvt. John D. Greene, Elmira, N.Y., 5 October 1918
Pvt. Leslie Hallenack, Herkimer, N.Y., 3 December 1918
Pvt. Samuel Hallett, Clark Mills, N.Y., 13 October 1918
Pvt. Merville Harrington, Smithville, N.Y., 28 February 1919
Pvt. Fred Higgins, Groton, N.Y., 29 November 1918
Pvt. Percy J. Howell, N. Lansing, N.Y., 27 November 1918
Pvt. Aloysius Kelly, New York, N.Y., 9 March 1918
Sgt. Lemuel Landphier, Rhinebeck, N.Y., 8 March 1919
Sgt. Leroy W. Livett, Ozone Park, N.Y., 22 November 1918
Pvt. John Lynch, New York, N.Y., 3 December 1918
Cpl. Clarence B. Miller, Johnson City, N.Y., 10 October 1918
Pvt. Clayton Neville, Pine Plains, N.Y., 11 January 1919
Pvt. Malcolm A. Northrip, Milton, N.Y., 31 October 1918
Pvt. George Nourse, Trumansburg, N.Y., 26 November 1918
Sgt. Charles T. Peebles, Binghamton, N.Y., 8 October 1918
Cpl. Antonio Pernice, New York, N.Y., 15 October 1918
Pvt. Frank Poole, Friendship, N.Y., 1 December 1918
Lt. Gomer J. Pritchard, Factoryville, Pa., 14 December 1918
Pvt. Harry Reynolds, Pine Plains, N.Y., 26 October 1918
Pvt. Howell Roberts, Warren Center, Pa., 28 December 1918
Pvt. Arthur Rourke, Brooklyn N.Y., 5 October 1918
Cook Martin Ryan, Brooklyn, N.Y., 16 May 1918
Pvt. Henry Lee Stephens, Canisteo, N.Y., 24 November 1918
Pvt. Thomas A. Stokes, New York, N.Y., 2 January 1919
Pvt. George Albert Tate, Canisteo, N.Y., 26 November 1918
Pvt. James Waldron, Endicott, N.Y., 15 October 1918
Pvt. Earl Weir, Birdsall, N.Y., 6 December 1918

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Tuesday, April 20, 2010

State Prison or State Park? Preserving the Hudson's Far Shore


"Construct a new prison at Bear Mountain and abandon Sing Sing prison at Ossining." Unthinkable as this recommendation sounds today, it almost became a reality one hundred years ago. Before the move was halted, Sing Sing Prison actually transferred prisoners upriver from Ossining to begin construction on a new prison.

The wheels of change had been set in motion in 1906 when New York Governor Frank W. Higgins appointed a commission to create new prisons. Two years later, the commission announced plans to build a penitentiary at Bear Mountain to replace Sing Sing. Only seven years before, the village of Sing Sing--unhappy with its close association with the prison of that name—had changed its name to Ossining.

For the new prison, the state bought a 740-acre tract of privately owned land at Bear Mountain. Inmates were transported upriver from Sing Sing and housed in barracks within a tall stockade with guard towers at the corners. Convicts began clearing trees and brush from the site near Highland Lake (today's Hessian Lake).

The prospect of a prison at Bear Mountain alarmed and infuriated all who loved the Hudson Highlands. Not only did the area have scenic and recreational values, but it had hallowed historical associations as well. On the site were the ruins of Forts Clinton and Montgomery, where militiamen of Orange and Putnam Counties had fallen before a surprise British attack in 1777.

Earlier Victories
This prison proposal was not the first assault on the natural beauty of the Hudson Valley. Only a few years before, conservationists had succeeded in stopping the blatant destruction of the unique Palisades. Originally, the rock debris at the base of the cliff had been used merely as a source of ballast for ships. Serious threats to the Palisades began with urban development and the growing demand for road building material. Between Weehawken and Hook Mountain, dozens of quarries furiously blasted huge chunks out of the cliff face. Prominent landmarks were reduced to rubble.

A prime mover in the fight to halt this destruction was the New Jersey Federation of Women's Clubs. In 1897, the Federation sent a delegation to Governor Foster M. Voorhees in Trenton and proposed a commission to study ways of saving the Palisades. At about the same time, former New York City Comptroller Andrew H. Green approached Governor Theodore Roosevelt in Albany. Green had conceived the consolidation of New York City and Brooklyn into “Greater New York.” He was also a founder of an organization with an unwieldy name: Trustees of Scenic and Historic Places and Objects in the State of New York. In 1901 it would shorten its name to the more descriptive American Scenic and Historic Preservation Society.

Bills were introduced in 1900 in both state legislatures to form a Palisades Interstate Park Commission consisting of ten members, with five members appointed by the governor of each state. Its purpose would be to acquire land and preserve the Palisades for recreational purposes. In Albany, the legislation passed easily. In Trenton, lobbyists for the trap rock quarries worked to defeat the bill. The New Jersey Federation of Women's Clubs mounted a vigorous campaign, however, and the legislation was passed.

George W. Perkins, first vice-president of the New York Life Insurance Company, was named president of the Commission. He discovered that the two states had only provided only $10,000 to stop the quarrying. Perkins had a reputation for being able to elicit money from other persons of wealth. He proved this by securing large contributions to buy up land. J.P. Morgan gave $122,500--and invited Perkins to join the Morgan bank. He accepted. The Commission purchased the Carpenter Brothers quarry for $132,500, thus stopping the blasting.

Without the creation of Palisades Interstate Park, this inspiring natural feature would have been so extensively quarried that little would be left today. A contemporary writer summed up the victory: "The events from the advent of man to the assault on the Palisades may be covered in a few words: Adam discovered the earth. Columbus discovered America. John McAdam, a descendant of the old Adam, discovered how to construct roads with crushed stone. Carpenter Brothers, quarrymen, discovered the Palisades. And the people of New York and New Jersey discovered that one of the most beautiful features of the Hudson scenery was being ruined to supply road material."

During the Commission's first ten years of operation, some thirteen miles of the Palisades were saved at a cost of only $450,000. In 1906, the jurisdiction of the Palisades Interstate Park Commission was extended to include Hook Mountain and Stony Point. The immediate reaction of the quarry operators was to move farther north into the Hudson Highlands.

The Battle for the Highlands
Another outspoken supporter of protection of the Highlands was a New York City obstetrician, Dr. Edward L. Partridge, who had a summer home on Storm King Mountain. He enlisted wealthy friends to form the Association for the Protection of the Highlands of the Hudson in 1907.

New York State was planning a celebration in the autumn of 1909 to commemorate Henry Hudson's 1609 exploration of the river and Robert Fulton's 1807 operation of a successful steam vessel. The upcoming festivities helped to spur public interest in the preservation of the natural beauty of the Hudson Highlands.

Again, the American Scenic and Historic Preservation Society spearheaded the effort. They had argued for Federal protection of 65 square miles on the east side of the Hudson and 57 square miles on the west side. Authorities in Washington turned them down. The New York legislature eventually passed a bill that set aside 75 square miles on the west side of the Hudson as the Highlands of the Hudson Forest Reserve, with Dr. Partridge as the secretary of a commission to administer it. It was a toothless tiger.

Preparations for the construction of a prison at Bear Mountain continued relentlessly. Architects were invited to submit plans for a walled enclosure and eighteen buildings, the whole not to cost more than $2 million. Specified were an administration building, a cellblock with a capacity of 1,400 inmates, a mess hall and a chapel. Cells were to measure six by ten feet, with a toilet, washbowl and bunk. Auxiliary buildings included a prison hospital to care for 75 patients and a building with 30 cells to isolate prisoners who were troublemakers.

Enter the Harrimans
Edward H. Harriman, the railroad magnate, was an influential force to be reckoned with. He had money and wealthy friends in seats of power, and he would not hesitate to use both. The sprawling Harriman properties--more than 30,000 acres west of the Hudson--had been bought over the years and kept in an undeveloped state. He did not want a prison at his doorstep.

Working with insurance executive George W. Perkins, Harriman conceived a plan that would create a giant park between the Ramapo and the Hudson rivers. In a June 1909 letter to New York Governor Charles Evans Hughes, he proposed the gift of 19 square miles of the properties he had assembled, and $1 million to acquire other lands between his lands and the Hudson. He added a suggestion that the prison be moved to the other side of the river, "so as not to destroy the natural beauty which can never again be replaced." Governor Hughes responded favorably.

Unfortunately, Harriman died of stomach cancer on September 9, 1909, leaving his entire estate of $70 million to his wife, Mary Averell Harriman. Three months after the death of her husband, Mrs. Harriman wrote to Governor Hughes. Her letter offered a gift of land to New York for a state park, and $1 million to administer it. She also promised to raise an additional $1.5 million by popular subscription in sixteen days.

For its part, the State would appropriate $2.5 million to buy additional land and build roads. As a condition, the State had to agree to abandon construction of the prison at Bear Mountain. In two weeks, thanks to the persuasive efforts of George W. Perkins, $1,625,000 was raised from wealthy philanthropists. J.P. Morgan and John D. Rockefeller each gave $500,000. Eleven other wealthy contributors gave $50,000 each.

New York and New Jersey passed the necessary enabling legislation. Because the new park would become part of the Palisades Interstate Park system, the Hudson River Forest Reserve was abolished after an existence of little more than a year. New Jersey also appropriated $500,000 to build the Henry Hudson Drive along the base of the Palisades.

On October 29, 1910, 18-year-old Yale student W. Averell Harriman, fifth of six Harriman children and later governor of New York, presented to the Palisades Interstate Park Commission the deed to 10,000 acres of land and a check for $1 million.

A Park Is Born
Development began almost immediately. The prison stockade and barracks were demolished. A dock was built on the Hudson for visitors who arrived by steamboat. Bear Mountain State Park opened officially for public use on July 5, 1913, and the first camps were occupied. In 1915, the rustic Bear Mountain Inn was built of huge chestnut logs. By 1919, two steamboats were bought. Fares for round trips from New York on weekends were 85 cents for adults and 45 cents for children.

In 1922, Benton Mackaye, a U.S. Labor Department employee and regional planner, proposed the construction of a 2,000-mile Appalachian Trail. It would wind through fourteen states, from Maine's Mount Katahdin to Georgia's Springer Mountain. Its first section--a 16-mile segment--was laid out in the park in 1923. That same year, a large area was carved from Bear Mountain State Park and named Harriman State Park. Today, it contains 46,647 acres and is the second largest in New York's state park system. Bear Mountain State Park contains 5,067 acres.

Completed in 1924, the Bear Mountain Bridge, built by a privately owned company, the dramatically situated bridge and its scenic highway from the Annsville traffic circle gave easy access the park to residents on the east side of the Hudson. Until 1931, it was the only motor vehicle and pedestrian bridge across the Hudson south of Albany. The president of the bridge company was E. Roland Harriman, youngest son of Mary A. Harriman. Although the Bridge had cost about $5,000,000 to construct, New York State purchased it for a bargain price of $2,300,000 in 1940.

By 1927, seven other park trails were completed. Swampy areas were dammed to create pristine lakes of surprising beauty. These were given Indian names. In summer, young campers occupied cabins along the shores of these lakes and were introduced to the wonders of nature. Over the years, walkers and hikers have explored the old mine roads, military trails and Indian paths that crisscross the parks. Surveyed and maintained by dedicated volunteers from metropolitan walking clubs, newer trails lead to the crests of peaks and often reveal unparalleled views.

George W. Perkins, who had died in 1920, was memorialized in 1934 with the construction of Perkins Memorial Drive, a motor road to Bear Mountain's summit. Thanks to careful preservation and enlightened development by visionaries like Perkins, unspoiled tracts of exceptional charm and historical interest remain close to the metropolitan area. Yet in a wilderness so near to population centers, it is still possible for a tyro hiker to become lost within sight of the Empire State Building.

Fire and Ice
Today, the parks are a veritable living museum of the early history of technology. Hikers frequently encounter the pits and shafts of old mines dug to exploit the region’s magnetite iron ore between 1746 and 1880. Fewer--but nonetheless interesting--are the ruins of furnaces in which the ore was reduced to pig iron. Iron from these mines and furnaces formed the massive chain that denied British naval vessels access to the upper Hudson came from here. A few links of this chain are on view at West Point.

Among British policies contributing to the American Revolution was the shortsighted mercantilism that viewed colonies as existing only for the enrichment of the mother country. Historians have placed emphasis on the Tea Act and stamp taxes, but another reason for Colonial dissatisfaction was the so-called Acts of Trade, which governed various manufactured products.

Particularly onerous among these were the Iron Acts, which allowed the colonists to mine iron ore but denied them the right to manufacture iron products from it. The law decreed that the iron had to be smelted and shipped to England without duty in blocks called "pigs." Articles of iron were illegally manufactured in Colonial America in so-called "slitting mills." This practice became a source of graft for Colonial administrators bribed to conceal the existence of such mills.

In the mid-19th century, the Knickerbocker Ice Company owned the proposed prison site. In winter, ice was cut on Highland Lake and sold in New York City. Blocks of ice were slid down long chutes for storage in large sheds on the Hudson shore near Iona Island. Knickerbocker also cut ice on the east side of the river at Lake Meahagh (then known as Knickerbocker Pond) bordered by Buchanan, Verplanck and Montrose.

Hikers on Dunderberg Mountain are sometimes surprised to come upon evidences of sections of a railroad roadbed and tunnels. This is all that remains of the Dunderberg Spiral Railway. A cable incline was to have taken passengers to the summit of the mountain at 920 feet, where a hotel and summer colony were planned. The return trip was to be by gravity over a series of gentle grades winding down the face of the mountain for nine miles. It was the 1890 brainchild of Henry J. Mumford, who hoped to duplicate his previous successful operation of a gravity railway in Pennsylvania. After spending $1 million, he ran out of money. The depression of 1893 sealed the fate of this broken dream.

Telltale Lilacs
From the beginning, it was the Commission's policy to encourage removal of persons living within park boundaries. Houses were purchased from heirs when owners died, and money was offered to current owners to vacate homes. Hikers frequently come upon old foundations and cellar holes--sites of former dwellings and outbuildings. Lilac bushes or vestigial gardens are often the only clues to former human presence.

Hamlets that existed in the past and are no more include Baileytown, Bulsontown, Johnsontown and Woodtown. The largest of such now-abandoned hamlets is Doodletown, located in the valley between Dunderberg and Bear Mountain. Folklore has it that the town got its name after British troops passed through on the way to attack the American forts on Popolopen Creek and played the song "Yankee Doodle" to deceive the inhabitants about their identity. Like many folk tales, it has no basis in reality and already had that name. In his report on the battle, the American commander, future Governor George Clinton, noted that he had sent a half company of troops to "the place called Doodletown" to scout the British advance.

The name "Doodletown" is believed to come from two Dutch words, "dood," meaning dead, and "del," dale or valley. Dutch skippers often put into the mouth of Doodletown Brook for water and wood. Something about the place perhaps led them to call it "Dead Valley." "Town" was added after a community had sprung up there. The U.S. government bought Iona Island in 1899 for use as a naval ammunition depot, and many residents of the little hamlet found employment there. By 1945, the population of Doodletown was about 300 persons.

After the Second World War, the Navy abandoned Iona Island. The Park bought it for $265,000 in 1965, the same year that the last of the houses in Doodletown was vacated and demolished. The site of Doodletown, with its two lonesome cemeteries, can be reached from Route 9W and several trails.

We all owe a debt of gratitude to those early conservationists who had the foresight to preserve this parkland for us. Each year these parks receive eight million visitors--more than the Grand Canyon or Yosemite or Yellowstone. No matter whether you stroll, walk, roam, saunter, climb, hike, backpack or camp, go and explore them. [Guidebooks and maps are for sale at the Bear Mountain Visitor Center near the Anthony Wayne Recreation Area, Exit 17 on the Palisades Interstate Parkway.]

A Personal Postscript
Over the years, campers, walkers and hikers have explored the wood roads and trails that crisscross the park. Surveyed and maintained by dedicated volunteers from metropolitan walking clubs, easily followed trails lead to the crests of peaks and often reveal unparalleled views.

I have long had a fondness for this fascinating area. In the depths of the Depression I spent three summers at an unusual summer camp in Harriman State Park. Called Camp Freedom, it was located on the western shore of Lake Sebago. Operated by an organization with a name straight out of Charles Dickens--The Association for Improving the Condition of the Poor--Camp Freedom was a "leadership camp" to develop counselors for the Association's other camps. My brother, eight years older than me had also been a camper at Camp Freedom. I would later discover his name inscribed in charcoal on the underside of the open-fronted Adirondack style shelter atop Tom Jones Mountain. Park records are scarce, but one document reveals that in return for construction of the camp, the Association enjoyed rent-free occupancy for eight and a half years. The nominal annual rental in the first years was $745.

Camping season at Camp Freedom lasted from the beginning of July and to the end of August. At the Association's massive camps centered on Lake Kanawauke, hordes of underprivileged children were brought up from the city for two-week periods.

The journey to and from Camp Freedom and other camps in the parks was by Hudson River steamboat. Campers assembled at the pier at West 40th Street and the Hudson River. Stops were made at 130th Street, Yonkers, Indian Point and Bear Mountain. Here buses met the campers and transported them to the camps.

Camp Freedom's roster was thirty boys, three counselors--all recent graduates from Ivy League schools--and a cook remembered for his fondness for baked beans. Seven small screened cabins stretched across the hillside, six with five campers each and one for counselors. Nearby was a large building, also screened, with a mess hall and kitchen on one side, and a recreation area on the other. A rough outdoor latrine, dubbed the "La-La," was a short distance away. It would be taboo today, but the thirty boys were divided into three “tribes” with Indian names: Iroquois, Ute and Seneca, This division provided three teams for baseball, flag football and other sports,

Freedom here was more than a word, and the concept of "freedom" was carried to an unusual extreme. On Wednesdays, each camper had to leave the camp under his own power right after breakfast. A basic lunch was provided. Travel could be by canoe or afoot on the trails that laced the hills and valleys. Sunday was another free day. More traditionally oriented campers would hitchhike to such centers of civilization as Southfields, Tuxedo, Sloatsburg or Suffern for church or treats like sodas and sundaes. For my part, I decided to explore the vastness of the park, and course its trails. I learned to orient myself anywhere.

A well-stocked library contained reference books on reptiles, mammals, trees, shrubs, flowers, and rocks and minerals. Other than the twice-a-day swim periods and afternoon sports, campers were encouraged to pursue their own interests and intellectual pursuits under the tutelage of a counselor whether it was woodcarving, natural history or camping skills. I chose mineral collecting. This unusual camping experience whetted my interest in geology and natural history, and led to a decision to study geology. The rich past of the area also left me with an abiding curiosity about local history that endures to this day. And, in coursing the trails, I learned woodcraft skills that only a few years later would help me to stay alive during World War Two.

In 1939, the Association for Improving the Condition of the Poor became the Community Service Society, which still serves the poor of New York City. Hudson River steamboats are only a memory. After the war, I resumed my interest in hiking. To reach the park on weekends, I used the Chambers Street Ferry and the Erie Railroad. Later I introduced my two sons to the wonders of the woods on park trails. With the creation of a large public bathing beach at the north end of Lake Sebago, the buildings of Camp Freedom were demolished in 1952, and no vestiges remain.

I was last a Camp Freedom camper 75 long years ago. Nevertheless, I should like to stand once again on the porch of that modest cabin under Parker Cabin Mountain and gaze across Sebago's waters upon the verdant slopes of Brundige Mountain beyond. Yet the hills could hardly be so lush with mountain laurel and wild azalea, the meadow flowers so soft and lovely, as they are in the eyes of memory.

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Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Chester A. Smith and the Fight to Make Peekskill a City


When the Southern states decided to leave the Union in 1861, Gen. Winfield Scott, General-in-Chief of the Army, offered this mollifying advice to the North: "Say to the seceding states, wayward sisters, depart in peace." Such concessionary words were not heard in Cortlandt or in Westchester County 71 years ago when Peekskill, a village, wanted to break away and become a city. Town and county both opposed the move bitterly, fighting it every inch of the way.

Peekskill's struggle to get out from under Cortlandt's thumb and become a city was as bitter as any quarrel between Balkan factions. Surprising the pundits, Peekskill voters crossed party lines and switched loyalties to accomplish the change, underscoring the adage that politics makes strange bedfellows.

Sentiment for Separation
The movement for independence from the town began in 1934 at a meeting at Peekskill High School. Citizens gathered to protest the high salaries Cortlandt officials had voted themselves when the country was just beginning to emerge from the Depression.

Stephen D. Horton had planted seeds of separation as early as 1894, when the village of Peekskill had a population of less than ten thousand. Horton was Peekskill's president. ["President" was an archaic title used because villages were incorporated. It was later dropped by Westchester villages and replaced by the title of "mayor."] Little was done about promoting the idea of independence, however, for four decades. In 1936, James Mackay, a Democrat and the village president, appointed a committee to draw up a city charter.

A year later the committee presented its proposed charter. Following an unsuccessful attempt to amend it, the village trustees sent the charter to Albany, where the Legislature passed it. Gov. Herbert H. Lehman signed it, subject to its approval by the people of Peekskill. At a special vote held in 1938, 71% percent of Peekskill's voters approved the charter.

Opposition quickly surfaced. In a surprising about-face, Peekskill's Republican board of trustees now demanded sweeping changes in the charter. One amendment would take away voters' right to approve the annual city budget. Although school budget approval by voters is common today, voter approval of a municipal budget, a holdover from colonial days, was an unusual arrangement in the 1930's. Surprisingly, too, most members of the original charter committee caved in and came out for the amendments. So, too, did all of Peekskill's trustees. Even the influential Peekskill Evening Star, originally a charter proponent, now supported the amendments.

A few stalwarts formed an Advisory Committee to Protect the Charter, and continued to fight for the charter as written. A Committee for a New Charter opposed them. From this contest emerged the Citizens Non-Partisan Committee, with Chester A. Smith as its self-proclaimed head. In July 1939, Peekskill held a referendum on the proposed amendments. Only a third of those who voted so overwhelmingly the year before turned out. Nevertheless, 56% of those who voted were for leaving the charter as written.

In the municipal election campaign of 1939, the pro-charter Democrats and the anti-charter Republicans went head to head. Smith, a registered Republican, and his Non-Partisan Citizens Committee backed the Democratic slate, which won handily on November 7. Among the winners were 58-year-old James Mackay, former village president and now mayor-elect, and five Democratic candidates for the Common Council. With the defeat of the Republicans, the opponents of the charter, Chester A. Smith and his Non-Partisan Citizens Committee, became a political force to be reckoned with for a decade.

The Remarkable Chester Smith
Chester Allen Smith would have welcomed the title of "Mr. Peekskill"--if anyone had been enterprising enough to bestow it on him. Without question, he deserved it. His life was a latter-day Horatio Alger story. A Peekskill native, he was born on November 15, 1884, the son of Louis H. and Abbie Lent Smith. His father was a descendant of John Howell, who arrived in America on the Mayflower in 1620. His mother's great grandfather was Isaac Lent, who fought in the Revolution.

Chester Smith learned shorthand from his father, a teacher in Putnam and Westchester schools. He eventually attained a speed of 330 words per minute and became a public stenographer in Peekskill. Early in 1907 he was appointed official court stenographer in the Ninth Judicial District of the State Supreme Court, working there for 47 years until his retirement. During World War I, Chester Smith served with the U.S. Army as a field clerk in Virginia. He was a founding member of Peekskill's American Legion post.

Academic Honors
While working as a court stenographer, he attended Columbia College, graduating with a B.A. and General Honors in 1923. His essay entitled "The Abolition of Slavery in the British Empire" won him the Chandler Prize in History. The following year he earned an M.A. His thesis was titled "Church and State in Maryland, 1760 to 1776," a study of the role it played in creating the Constitution's doctrine of the separation of church and state.

He was a member of Peekskill's United Methodist Church and, beginning in 1916, represented the church at conferences across America for almost fifty years. But he could also be combative and a troublesome gadfly. As a believer in the peace movement, he once tried to have the hymn "Onward Christian Soldiers" removed from the Methodist hymnal. Also a lifelong opponent of alcohol and cigarettes, he was years ahead of his time in pointing out the dangers of tobacco and smoking. He would never sell a piece of real estate unless the buyer agreed that it would not be used in the manufacture or sale of alcoholic beverages. In 1933, he was an unsuccessful “Dry” candidate for a place on the New York delegation to ratify the 21st Ammendment that repealed Prohibition..

One of his greatest contributions to Peekskill was the support he gave to the Field Library. In 1920 he headed a committee to purchase the former Second Presbyterian Church on South Street for the library, then located on Smith Street. He secured a donation of $25,000 from James B. Ford to renovate the building. Later, he gave the library a three-story fireproof addition, the Louis H. Smith Wing, in his father's memory.

Perhaps Chester Smith's most enterprising contribution to Peekskill was his Friendly Town Association, begun in 1920 as the Friendly Town Club. It was a one-man chamber of commerce. Largely supported by contributions from him, the Association honored Peekskill citizens for outstanding service and marked historic sites with bronze tablets. Chester Smith also encouraged local citizens to donate land to the Association and from which seven parks were created, totaling 20 acres.

Opposition from Cortlandt
The Peekskill officials elected on November 7, 1939, never took office. From the outset, the Republican town board of Cortlandt was antagonistic to the idea of Peekskill becoming a city. The town board sued to invalidate the election. After the charter and the election were upheld in the state supreme court and the appellate division, the town stubbornly took the case to the court of appeals. That court overturned both the charter and the 1939 election on the technicality that proper legal notice had not been given before the 1938 vote that approved the charter.

Undaunted, Chester Smith announced that he would make an end run by having the State Legislature confirm the charter. Myle J. Holley, Peekskill's village president since 1937, openly opposed the charter. Smith called for him to step down--which he did on January 13, 1940. For eight days Peekskill was without a president or mayor. D. Wiley Thomas, another member of the Peekskill board of trustees, was named President on January 21, 1940.

In the meantime, the bill that would have validated Peekskill's charter languished in the Legislature, awaiting a special message from Governor Lehman requesting passage. Taking the bull by the horns, Chester Smith telephoned the governor in Albany and asked him to meet with a delegation from Peekskill. The governor agreed.

At their meeting on February 27, 1940, in the governor's office, Chester Smith pointed out that Cortlandt was standing in the way of Peekskill becoming a city. He asked Lehman to send a message to the Legislature requesting passage of the legislation that would make this a reality. Ever the smooth politician, the governor demurred. "Go back and petition the Westchester board of supervisors again," Lehman told them.

Speaking for the group of four from Peekskill, Smith pointedly asked, "And if they deny the petition again, will you stand with us and ask the Legislature to pass the validating act?" The governor, a Democrat, made no reply, but Smith took his subtle smile as evidence of his agreement.

Again the Westchester board of supervisors turned down the Non-Partisan Citizens Committee's petition. Lehman sent his message to the Legislature, and the Legislature acted. Governor Lehman's signature on the bill marked the end of the city's long and painful birthing process. Cortlandt had lost the costly litigious battle.

Peekskill a City at Last
One hurdle remained: another election--this time on April 9, 1940. Again voters spoke loud and clear. James Mackay and the Democratic slate were again elected, some by margins of two to one. After a century and a quarter of existence as a village, the board of trustees met for the last time in an emotional session on July 29, 1940. Former trustee Harry B. Foshay led board members and audience in singing "Auld Lang Syne.” With a population of more than seventeen thousand, Peekskill officially became a city that evening, with James Mackay as mayor.

The honeymoon of Chester Smith and the new Mackay administration, however, was short-lived. As in many marriages, the split came over money. During the campaign, Mackay and his Common Council candidates had promised economies in government. Once in office, however, they surprised Smith and other supporters by proposing a 1941 Peekskill budget that called for spending a whopping $766,777.06.

Moreover, they proposed hefty raises for city officials: a 43% jump in salary for the city judge (from $2,800 to $4,000), a 33% boost for the corporation counsel (from $3,000 to $4,000), and a 20% increase for the city clerk (from $2,500 to $3,000). The administration also proposed to create the post of deputy comptroller with a salary of $3,600 to aid newly elected comptroller Albert E. Cruger.

Democratic council members made another tactical mistake; this one fatal. Chester Smith tended to monopolize and even dominate council meetings. Council members began to ignore him and disregard his suggestions and requests. Smith's Non-Partisan Citizens Committee immediately declared its opposition to the new administration's proposed budget, bought newspaper advertising and mounted a direct-mail campaign that reached all 2,671 eligible voters.

The council countered with a series of high-handed tactics. Instead of scheduling the budget vote at the traditional location, the Peekskill High School gymnasium, they stirred up a hornet's nest by choosing the inappropriate and much smaller three-year-old Municipal Building.

To further discourage voter turnout, the council set the time of the voting for the brief 90-minute period between 7:30 and 9 p.m., Tuesday, December 3, 1940. Only two voting machines were installed. The new administration was obviously making it difficult for voters to show their feelings about the budget.

The strategy backfired. Despite these roadblocks, 622 taxpayers turned out on a cold winter night. A line three-deep snaked its way out of the Municipal Building's rotunda and down the curved staircase onto Main Street. Many waited for hours to vote; some gave up and returned home. To accommodate the waiting crowd, voting continued until after midnight. In the final tally, an overwhelming 80% said no. The actual numbers were 499 against the budget and only 123 for it.

"Last night's election was a definite repudiation of the present city administration," opined a Peekskill Evening Star editorial the next day. The paper followed this with another strong editorial pointing out that selfish political maneuvering must stop.

Fighting City Hall
Immediately after the vote, Chester Smith called upon Mayor James Mackay and council member Horton, who had both defended the budget, to resign. Mackay was no newcomer to politics--he had been Peekskill's president in the mid-1930s when it was still a village. An executive with the Campbell-Ewald advertising agency at 10 Rockefeller Plaza in New York City, Mackay decided the game wasn't worth the candle and stepped aside. In January of 1941, the weekly Highland Democrat hailed Chester Smith as its "Man of the Year." Editor George E. Briggs praised him as both a "king maker" and a "king toppler."

The Common Council named a council member, 65-year-old banker William T. Horton, to serve out the remainder of Mackay's term. Horton was the retired manager of the Fifth Avenue branch of the Corn Exchange Bank in New York City. He had chaired the committee that framed Peekskill's city charter, had served on the Peekskill Board of Education and would later become Peekskill's city historian in 1946.

The resounding defeat of the 1941 budget had an instant salutary effect. A chastened Common Council suddenly found $19,010.90 that could be lobbed from the budget, reducing it to $747,766.16. Chester Smith and the Non-Partisan Citizens Committee quickly gave their blessing to the new budget. A second budget vote was scheduled for Monday, December 30, 1940.

This time the high school gymnasium would be the polling place, and would remain open an ample eleven hours--from 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. Surprisingly, exactly the same number of voters--622--turned out. Equally surprising, the split was again 499 to 123--only this time the majority approved the budget. The taxpayers had made their point.

Budgets, of course, are an annual chore. In 1941, a 1942 budget totaling $705,280 was proposed by the Democrats. Again an unhappy Smith went into action, mounting an anti-budget campaign that called for a reduction of $65,772.80, cutting expenditures to $639,507.20. (Chester Smith did not believe in rounding numbers.) Non-Partisan Citizens Committee advertising included a sample ballot pointedly showing voters which lever to pull down to vote against the proposed budget. The council stubbornly refused to reduce the budget.

The Voters Speak
But more than the budget was at stake. Each party also had a slate of candidates running for mayor, council members and other city offices. On Tuesday, November 4, 1,357 Peekskill residents went to the polls. A convincing 71% rejected the budget. Voters also voiced their displeasure with the Democrats. The entire Republican slate was swept into office, including 53-year-old Ralph F. Hopkins, a well-known local architect, as mayor, and six Republican council members. In addition to many local residences, Mayor-elect Hopkins had designed the village's Colonial Revival-style Municipal Building in 1936, and such landmarks as the Masonic Temple, gutted by a disastrous fire on January 20, 2001, and the Guardian Annex. In 1950, he would design Genung's department store, which later became the Howland department store and now houses offices.

Before a new 1942 budget was put to a vote, Chester Smith reiterated his demand that $65,772.80 be cut. Knowing that the new administration would have to live within any budget approved by taxpayers, the lame-duck Common Council outdid themselves. They cut items totaling $77,838--18% more than Smith had demanded.

Smith and his committee gave the reduced budget of $627,442 their blessing. Voting was set for Tuesday, December 23, 1941. Only 385 voters showed up at the polls, but 73% of them approved the budget. He was also instrumental in securing the 13-room Victorian house at 124 Union Avenue for the Field Library. That building, the former Dwight Stiles Herrick residence, is now the Peekskill Museum.

Completed in 1878, the house was designed by William Rutherford Mead, acting independently of his partners in the firm of McKim, Mead and Bigelow. (The firm of McKim, Mead and White came into existence a year later, when William B. Bigelow resigned and flamboyant Stanford White joined them.) Herrick, a prominent Peekskill attorney, had been a classmate of Mead's at Amherst College. An early example of the Queen Anne style in the United States, it is different from most other Queen Anne buildings in that no curved forms are used--neither in the windows, projecting bays or substantial octagonal tower at the rear corner. A veranda running along the south side of the building and accessible from the floor-length, ground-floor windows was later removed.

By 1944, the house had fallen into disrepair, and taxes owed by the owner, Mrs. Ida M. Adams, were in arrears. When Peekskill began an action because of nonpayment of taxes, Chester Smith raised the money to pay them by selling a portion of the property. He also raised $10,000 to renovate it and an additional $13,500 as an endowment fund. After extensive repairs, the house was opened to the public on May 17, 1946.

Mayor Ralph F. Hopkins would serve three two-year terms. The Hopkins administration eventually alienated Chester Smith. One reason for the rift was the bitter dispute that arose over the Friendly Town Association's parks. In the 1947 election campaign, Chester Smith and his Non-Partisan Citizens Committee retaliated by backing the Democrats. Peekskill voters roundly rejected the Republicans in November. The Democrats, under Mayor John N. Schneider, were returned to power.

Golden Years
Chester Smith had always been a lover of books. A prolific author in his own right, Chester Smith created dozens of pamphlets and brochures on a variety of subjects ranging from narrow local issues to the question of Prohibition. He began his writing career with a novel published in 1913. The American Comedy, about Putnam County’s politically minded families, is now a collector's item. Many of his books were about Peekskill and its history, including the self-laudatory Peekskill, A Friendly Town, Its Historic Sites and Shrines: A Pictorial History of the City from 1564 to 1952 and Who’s Who in Peekskill, published in 1955.

To everyone's surprise, in the mid-1950s, Chester Smith decided to become a lawyer. At the age of 74, he graduated from the New York Law School on June 18, 1959, with the degree of Bachelor of Laws. Following graduation, he was injured in an automobile accident, suffered a heart attack and twice failed to pass the bar examination.

Failing Health
A lifelong bachelor, in his later years, Chester Smith lived alone after the death of his mother and later his sister, Edith M. Smith, in 1950. On July 24, 1968, he fell in the basement of his home at 730 Hudson Avenue, after suffering what may have been a mild heart attack. Four years later, he died in the morning of September 29, 1972, at the Westledge Extended Care Facility on East Main Street in Peekskill, less than two months short of his 88th birthday. His obituary made the front page of that day’s edition of the Peekskill Evening Star. It revealed that there were no immediate survivors, and burial would be in Hillside Cemetery in Peekskill.

Peekskill owes much to him. Without his untiring efforts, it would not have come into existence as a city when it did. He left his mark on Peekskill in the form of numerous plaques and memorials to its famous citizens that dot the city. Future biographers will have an easier task recording his life. Chester Smith's voluminous papers were deposited with the Special Collections Research Center at the Syracuse University Library. If anyone could take satisfaction from a life spent in service to a community, it was Chester Allen Smith.

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